I recently read several interesting articles on Puerh in “The Art of Tea” magazine which you read a review about here many weeks ago by Phyll Sheng. I am quite familiar with the growing popularity and demand for vintage Puerh (not to mention the soaring prices), but admittedly still a novice in the intricacies and complexities of knowing what’s worth it and what’s not. I found one particular article by He Jing Cheng titled Appreciating Puerh Tea with Reason, particularly intriguing.
When I was much younger, in my twenties, I would go out to dinner with friends and we would all share a bottle or 2 of wine. I was not very knowledgeable about wine in those days (not that I’m that knowledgeable now) but my friends were at least more knowledgeable than I. They would go on and on about how wonderful a particular wine was that we were drinking. I would verbalize agreement while silently saying to myself “Yuk. This stuff is horribly bitter”. I was young and succumbed to the pressure of my “allegedly” more knowledgeable cohorts. I just assumed that they knew what they were talking about and I didn’t; that their sensory experience was more correct than mine. I learned many years later that I possess an over abundance of bitter receptors on my tongue that makes me much more sensitive to tannins and other bitter substances. I became much more comfortable with this difference and with my own sensory experience as I began to learn how very individual taste can be. A perfect example has been our online tea tastings. If you go back and read people’s tasting notes, you will quickly see that there is tremendous variation in what each one of us tastes (this also includes the very powerful influence from our unique olfactory senses as well).
So what does this have to do with Puerh? He Jing Cheng, in discussing how adamant some people have gotten about how much better “aged” puerh is in comparison to young puerh, provides an interesting counterpoint. His simple but powerful recommendation for which puerhs to purchase, which rings true for wine and art as well, is essentially to buy what tastes good to you at the time (looks good with art – I used to eat my drawings on paper of foods I liked and believe me it was better to see it than eat it). Whether the puerh may or may not improve with age should be secondary to whether it makes a good cup of tea when you buy it. Yes, it is true that some puerhs will improve with age, but certainly not all. Whether puerh, or art or wine, don’t just buy something that other people tell you is good or will be good in the future. Buy what you like now and there will be a good probability that you will continue to enjoy it well into the future.
I would love to hear from all of you puerh aficionados if you agree with Mr. Cheng’s assertions or whether you have a different point of view.